There’s no shortage of devices that you can stick on your bedside table to use as a voice-controlled alarm clock. You can of course just use your phone, but you can also put a small smart speaker, such as Amazon’s Echo Dot, Google’s Nest Mini, or Apple’s new HomePod mini there and bark a command to set an alarm, let you know the weather or snooze for ten minutes. If you want something more full-featured, devices like the Echo Show 5, Lenovo Smart Watch or Google’s Nest Hub have full-color touchscreen displays that can play videos, show a camera feed. or used as a digital photo frame.
Lenovo̵7;s newest contender in the field, the $ 49.95 Essential Smartwatch, sits somewhere in between all of that. It’s a voice-controlled Google Assistant smart speaker with a simple black and white segmented LED display. It shows the current time, weather condition, date and current alarms you have set. The screen automatically adjusts brightness depending on the room’s lighting levels, so it doesn’t dazzle you in the middle of the night. But it is not touchscreen, does not display photos or videos and cannot be used to track camera feed. That is what you get if you combine a modern smart speaker with an old-fashioned 1980s LED clock radio.
That combination of ideas translates into the Essential Smartwatch look. Seen from the front, the white numbers on a black background make it look like a typical, basic alarm clock. Look closer and you can see two small holes for your voice command-receiving microphone. On top of the wedge-shaped device there are four buttons for managing alarm, play / pause and volume. Around the back is a USB-A port that you can use to charge your phone or smartwatch, as well as a switch to stop the listening microphone.
The faces of Essential Smartwatches are wrapped in gray fabric, as has been a trend with smart speakers in recent years. One unique feature here is the LED ring light on the back of the device, meaning a type of night light. Lenovo claims it won’t disturb your sleep, but I found it too bright to use when the watch was a foot or two from my head while I slept. You can adjust brightness with voice commands, but I wish there was a button to do so, or Lenovo just adjusts brightness automatically based on the amount of light in the room. Or even better, it can gradually light up like an alarm light just before my alarm goes off.
As an alarm clock, Smart Clock Essential is well equipped. You can set multiple alarms, through the buttons on the top or through voice commands (a much easier method, if you ask me). It can sound a standard alarm beep or you can just say “STOP” when the alarm is about to cancel. You can also double-tap the top of the watch to snooze. However, this pressing gesture took a bit of effort and when I was half awake and wobbly, I found myself having to hit my head quite hard to report. Amazon’s similar Echo Dot with the Watch outperformed this touch-to-snooze feature.
One note – and this applies to every smart speaker alarm clock I’ve tested – there’s no spare battery here, so if your power goes out overnight and doesn’t come back before the alarm goes off. Wake is set, you will not have an alarm in the morning.
As a smart speaker, Smart Clock Essential is fine, but don’t expect it to be your primary music device. The 3-watt speaker is surprisingly loud, but as you’d expect, the bass is lacking and the sound is not very pleasant at high volumes. To listen to the weather reports, news updates or your favorite wake-up song, it’s definitely enough.
The Essential smartwatch can be summed up in two words: functional simplicity. It offers more alarm clock widgets and features than the screenless Nest Mini or Echo Dot but doesn’t overwhelm you with the functionality of a full smart display. With its usual price tag of $ 50, it offers a good experience. But lately it’s been on sale for half or less, which makes it even better if you’re looking to upgrade your alarm clock experience.